“Security” as a pretext against unionizing

<p>When the Zarfati garage became wary of the workers’ committee chairperson, they simply framed him using nationalist claims. They brought in the Civil Administration and the police, then sent him to military court.</p>

Publishded in Hebrew in “Hottest place in Hell” website on 19.1.15

When the Zarfati garage became wary of the workers’ committee chairperson, they simply framed him using nationalist claims. They brought in the Civil Administration and the police, then sent him to military court. That’s how things are under Occupation: the authorities collaborate with a Jewish business owner who aims to continue exploiting his Palestinian workers.

חאתם אבו זיאדה

It’s seven o’clock on a Thursday evening and Hatem Abu Ziadeh sits behind the wheel of the taxi he drives to support his family. He’s been on the go since early morning, ferrying passengers on the winding roads between Ramallah and the surrounding villages.

Abu Ziadeh is from Jibiya, a village near Bir Zeit, and is the proud father of four sons and two daughters. For 17 years he was employed as a mechanic at the Zarfati garage in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone. But last summer he was dismissed following a unionizing drive which he led together with the independent Trade Union Center WAC-MAAN.

Ostensibly, this is just another story, becoming increasingly common, of workers standing up and demanding their legal rights. However, unlike organizing initiatives within the “Green Line”, the fact that this case involves Palestinian workers employed in a Jewish settlement means it has unique characteristics.

A particularly worrying aspect of Abu Ziadeh’s story is not the ease with which the employer violates labor laws and the rights of Palestinian workers – such cases are commonplace. What makes this case important is the way it exposes how official state bodies grant assistance, both direct and indirect, to employers who violate employees’ basic rights.

Why are you raking up the past?

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The organizing at Zarfati began in June 2013. Some 40 Palestinians joined WAC-MAAN and a letter in their name was sent to the employer, asking that a general workers’ assembly be held. In July of that year, elections were held for the workers’ committee, and Abu Ziadeh, who had been instrumental in the unionizing efforts, was elected as chair.

“Before the organizing,” Abu Ziadeh said, “Zarfati did whatever he felt like. He said we were employed according to Jordanian law, and that he wasn’t obliged to pay us minimum wage. People would get 3,000 shekels a month, without vacations, without pension contributions, without national insurance, nothing. Sometimes for example there would be accidents on the job which meant some workers couldn’t work for whole days, even weeks. But nobody paid them for the days they lay in hospital or at home. Only when Zarfati understood we were organizing and that he was being watched – suddenly things changed.”

In a decision from December 2014, the regional labor court stated explicitly that from July 2013 WAC-MAAN and the committee members had been in contact with the garage management, and that “nobody can deny that during that year of talks changes were made to the wages and employment terms of the workers of the respondent [Zarfati garage – N.H.], including updating the workers’ wages and transport payments, and settling bereavement, vacation, sickness, religious holidays and training payments. Wage slips were issued, and more.”

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About Niv Hachlili